People often need to be rescued at sea because of stormy weather – exactly the kind of conditions in which it is not safe to fly.
Nonetheless, fully-crewed helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are regularly sent out into such weather to perform maritime rescues, endangering both the crew and the expensive aircraft themselves. Soon, however, a new type of unmanned remote-control aircraft may be able to do the job. Not only would flight crews be kept out of harm’s way, but as demonstrated by a functioning prototype, the aircraft would outperform conventional planes in rough weather, thanks to shape-shifting technology.
The maritime rescue UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) is being developed through the EUREKA E! 3931 ASARP project, EUREKA being a European intergovernmental network that supports market-oriented research and development.
The prototype seaplane can take off or land on ground or water, fly for up to 4.5 hours, and has a payload capacity of 40 kg. (88 lbs.). It also has onboard cameras which transmit live to its self-sufficient ground command center, where a human operator mans the controls. Presumably it can’t pluck people out of the sea, but it could establish their location and perhaps drop supplies.